(Web Editor’s Note: This article is an updated, extended version of a story we first posted on Jan. 6)

(Jan. 7, 10:45 a.m.) The Idaho Potato Commission is spicing up its annual Potato Lovers Month retail display contest with a new partner and new entry prizes.

The Eagle-based commission will work with Melrose Park, Ill.-based Alberto Culver Co. and two of its food division staples, Mrs. Dash and Molly McButter. The commission has worked with Kraft Foods in the past, but Seth Pemsler, vice president, retail and international, decided to make a change this year.

Pemsler said Mrs. Dash and Molly McButter are both household names, so he hopes they will add excitement to the contest. Participation has been down the past two years after a peak of 2,700 stores submitting entries in 2006. Pemsler’s goal is for 3,000 stores this year.

Every store that submits a qualifying entry receives a DVD/MP3 player.

The top five stores in each of three store categories receive $1,500 (first), $1,000, (second place) $750 (third), $500, (fourth) and $250 (fifth).

One-hundred honorable mention stores win $100 each. In addition, for every first- through fifth-place prize awarded, the category manager for the corresponding store receives a matching prize.

The contest begins Jan. 26 and runs through the last week of February. Participating retailers are required to create a display that features fresh Idaho potatoes, a dehydrated Idaho potato product, at least one Mrs. Dash seasoning blend and at least one Molly McButter product. The display must feature this year’s signs so that judges can distinguish it from previous years’ displays.

The potato commission offers a display kit that includes four two-sided Potato Lovers Month display pieces, a two-sided sign with photos of prepared potato recipes and two inflatable Mylar Spuddy Buddies. The kit is available to retailers at www.idahopotato.com/retail.

Pemsler said produce buyers could also work with their stores’ grocery buyers to access stand-alone shippers and other display pieces for the Mrs. Dash and Molly McButter items.

“If you look at our past winners, frequently that’s what wins,” Pemsler said. “It’s a more effective display.”

Pemsler encourages retailers to be creative and to use other signs and resources. The display must remain in the store for at least one week.

Participants have until March 31 to submit photos of their displays to the commission, which can be done online or through the mail.

This is the 18th year commission has sponsored the contest.

“Years ago, February was a slow month for Idaho potatoes,” Pemsler said. “Now, it’s a booming month. We do almost as much as any other month, besides around the holidays.”

Pemsler said because half of the retailers in the U.S. don’t code Idaho potatoes with their own specific stock-keeping-unit, it is difficult to track the effects of the contest on sales. The commission does, however, believe it has a positive effect on both Idaho potato sales and produce department sales in general.

“It’s a great way to excite sales in the winter when there’s not as much going on in the produce department,” Pemsler said.

Pemsler said he expects to announce the winners by May 1.

IPC retools retail display contest for 2009
Among the winners of the Idaho Potato Commission's 2008 Potato Lovers Month retail display contest was this entry from Spains Supermarket, Grenada, Miss.